• The magazine for physical and mental fitness


Yoga and neuroscience


photo (1)My yoga journey started back in 1999. From the start I was hooked. Initially drawn to fast  paced dynamic flow yoga, my practice has evolved over the years. The hard physical aspect of assana practice was my entry point to the  complexity of yoga.

Early in my practice I was blessed to come accross an amazing Iyengar yoga teacher. She had been a pupil of the great teacher,  Iyengar, for over 25 years. Over the years she had direct experience of Iyengar’s adjustments and I was lucky to receive some of this wealth of experience via Brenda. In 2003 I was also lucky to stumble accross Sivananda yoga. Their fantastic course provided a great introduction to the beautiful knowledge from the Yoga sutras and also the Bhagavad Gitta. Since then I’ve learnt techniques and received insights from hundreds of amazing teachers and been lucky to have taught thousands of classes and workshops.

My yoga journey led away from my former career in Corporate Finance with KPMG towards physical and mental fitness.  And from there to Leadership development and Mindfulness

Yoga – flourishing 

Many people see yoga as a stress management tool, a good stretch, a way to alleviate pain or create a hard and lean body. It is all this but is also much more. The Eight Limbs of Yoga, contained within the Yoga Sutras, provides a diligent practicioner with the keys to a thriving life. Daily practice provides insight into the perfection that is already present. We reveal our inner radiance and connection to the outer radiance by exploring and bringing into presence each area of the eight limbs.

Through my subsequent exploration of neuroscience and Positive Psychology I have have come to realise how each of the eight limbs re wires the brain. Diligent practice enables us to thrive as individuals and also fosters community and global wellbeing.

The Eight Limbs

The long roadPatanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras over 2,000 years ago.  It builds on the observations of thousands of years of self enquiry by seekers of knowledge.  It is a deep, rich source of powerful tools.

Many mental health practitioners are embracing the wonderful concepts from various Buddhist traditions but there is a real lack of knowledge among psychologists about the depth and power for brain training and whole body flourishing contained within the Eight Limbs of Yoga.  Here is a little about each :

Yama – mindfully developing love, kindness and compassion for others and the environment

Niyama – mindfully developing self kindness and compassion. This includes being mindful of our cravings and impulses and regulating them in order to encourage non attachment. Through practice we are better able to savour, observe and let go – Non grasping. Non affliction. The joy of life flows and we let it flow on by

Asana – mindful observation of our physical bodies. The act of observing in a kind and compassionate manner changes the observed and has a positive impact on the brain

Pranayama – mindful observation of our breath changes the observed. As we engage in deep, slow, abdominal breathing, our resting heart rate and blood pressure are positively influenced. And as we engage in this process the body informs the mind, through the vagal nerve, that all is well. We feel safe, loved and have all we need. No need to run. No need to strive in order to keep up with the crowd. In a calm, balanced, state we are better able to attend to the things in life that bring meaning and foster personal and global wellbeing

Pratyahara – Mindfully turning our attention inward in order to observe the relationship between cause and effect. We observe how we crave some things and are repulsed by others. This mindful, non judgmental, observation allows us to unpick some of the hard wired tendancies that we have. These are the tendencies we were born with, the ones that came to us with our development and the ones that we are creating or solidifying at this very moment. Like Leonardo DA Vinci we become the disciple of experience through mindful observation. We observe ourselves moving through life, attracted by some things, repulsed by others. Calm observation fascilitates the development of wisdom as we understand that our ego is nothing but a bundle of thoughts, feelings and sensations wrapped in a physical layer. Observation enables us to understand that the self is not an unchanging thing but an evolving, connected thing which can grow and change and live harmoniously within the world

Dyhana – Being mindful of the first five limbs requires focus. Dyhana is the process of training the attention to focus on one thing. As we practice this we get better at it. With the sharpened tool of attention we can attend better to developing kindness and compassion for others. We are also better able to develop kindness and compassion for ourselves. With sharpened attention we can be more mindful of our physical bodies, our breath and better placed to observe and regulate our thoughts and feelings. Without attention we can not attend to that which we find meaningful . Without attention we cannot attend to the things that the Buddha and Patanjli observed made us thrive

Dharana – effortless attention. Through practice the karmic impulses are quietened and non judgmental single pointed focus can be achieved effortlessly.

Samadi – a practicioner of yoga may experience fleeting moments and profound realisations. The realisation that our neurons are connected. As you suffer, I suffer. As you thrive, I thrive. The world in peace and harmony . The mind in peace and harmony. Transcenence, oneness. The realisation of perfection

Our next course, Positive Psychology for Yoga teachers, Mental health workers, Psychologist  and Yoga students, explores how the findings from Positive Psychology and Emotional Intelligence compares and contrasts with the observations of Yoga practiconers.

The next course is with myself and Michale de Maninor at the Yoga Institute, Sydney on the 9th November http://www.breathe-australia.com/sessions